02/13/2013 11:28 am ET Updated Apr 15, 2013

The State of Quality Care Demands Quality Jobs

It was the first State of the Union from the second-term president and, as expected, it focused on the economy, on our shared commitment to caring for those less fortunate, and on the road we must continue to follow if we are to stay on the path to full recovery. It is clear that we have made progress, yet also true that we still have a long road ahead of us. With unemployment still hovering at 7.9 percent, it is clear that in order to sustain a full and persistent recovery, we must continue to create jobs and we must ensure available jobs are of good quality.

The question then becomes -- where could we as a nation focus our efforts to ensure available jobs are of good quality? One need look no further than the burgeoning field of eldercare with a particular focus on the direct care workforce. Like Nemo -- which blanketed the northeast last week causing governors in no less than three states to declare a state of emergency -- we have another storm bearing down on us. Specifically, a near perfect alignment of demographic change and workforce needs. Many in our field have been talking about the silver tsunami of the baby boomers and we are just on the edge of that storm. Baby boomers are different -- we are going to want to stay at home and we are going to demand that we have that option. If there is one thing that we can learn from major storms, preparation is key. What steps can we take to ensure our nation is prepared to care for us when we are older?

Our answer would be to work together to strengthen the eldercare workforce, especially the predominantly-female home care workers who provide 70 to 80 percent of the paid in-home hands-on long-term care to our nation's older adults and people with disabilities. We have been doing that, together with other advocates, as representatives to the Eldercare Workforce Alliance -- a 28-member coalition that is working to ensure that America is prepared to care for our seniors. Like others of our generation, we have seen this dedicated workforce take care of our loved ones first-hand. We are a generation that has hired homecare workers to help Mom with showering, Dad with dressing and going to doctor appointments, and other loved ones with the groceries. Together, we have hired an army of folks to help our loved ones with the mundane activities of daily living -- the things one MUST be able to do -- or have done -- if one is to live at home.

What most of us don't know is that this army of workers -- 2.3 million strong and among the fastest growing occupations in the United States -- is excluded from the same federal minimum wage and overtime protections that we ourselves enjoy.

We would like to believe that President Obama will stand up for these workers as he did on December 15, 2011 when he announced that the U.S. Department of Labor would be revising the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide home care workers with greater federal minimum wage protection. On that day, he stood with home care workers at his side and said that these workers

should not have to wait a moment longer for a fair wage. They work hard and play by the rules and they should see that work and responsibility rewarded. [This] action will ensure that these men and women get paid fairly for a service that a growing number of older Americans couldn't live without.

We couldn't agree more -- home care workers should not have to wait a moment longer for the proposed rule to be finalized. We look forward to the day when the president stands with home care workers again and announces the final rule.

The president focused a great deal of attention on the economy tonight and on the services that we, as a nation, need to ensure are there for our citizens. We believe that providing minimum wage and overtime protection for home care workers is integral to recruiting and retaining these workers and to ensuring we have the necessary workforce now and in the future. It's good for workers and, quite frankly, it's good for the economy as well.

The positions of the co-conveners of the Eldercare Workforce Alliance do not necessarily represent the position of individual Alliance member organizations.